Response to Yusuf and Kirk “Keeping an eye on South Asian skies”

CSP_Blog_16_03-Flags_of_India_and_PakistanEarlier this year, Moeed Yusuf and Jason A. Kirk published an article in Contemporary Security Policy on America’s pivotal deterrence in nuclearized India–Pakistan crises. The aim of this article is to theorize third-party involvement in a nuclearized regional rivalry. The role of the USA as a third-party arbiter between conflicting parties has been discussed before. This article is the first to apply pivotal deterrence theory to the nuclearized conflict, where the stakes are extremely high. Through the study of three major crises between India and Pakistan, Yusuf and Kirk show that America’s intervention generally enhanced stability.

The article by Yusuf and Kirk has triggered a response by Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty, two prominent scholars who have previously published extensively on India–Pakistan relations including their nuclear rivalry. In the interest of open debate, and to further clarify the contribution of the original article, their response and the reply by Yusuf and Kirk is published below.

Response to Yusuf and Kirk “Keeping an eye on South Asian skies”

We write in response to “Keeping an Eye on South Asian Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India-Pakistan Crises,” by Moeed Yusuf and Jason A. Kirk.[1] In doing so, we applaud the authors for attempting to improve with theoretical rigor our understanding of South Asia’s nuclear dynamics.

Our response concerns two issues. First, we would like to correct a serious mischaracterization of our book, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons.[2] On p. 3 of their article, Yusuf and Kirk write that: “Most prominently, nuclear optimists like Ganguly and Hagerty argue that bilateral deterrence explains war avoidance by India and Pakistan; they discount third-party involvement. . . . We are thus left with a Cold War-derived literature inclined toward analysing nuclear crisis dynamics through two-actor models, and with South Asia-specific studies that call attention to trilateral crisis dynamics but still leave as under-theorized, third-party efforts to prevent war.”

Contrary to this assertion, we neither “discount third-party involvement” nor “under-theorize” such involvement. One of the three theories we subject to empirical scrutiny is “unipolarity theory,” from which we generate the proposition that: “The Indian and Pakistani governments, despite compelling incentives to attack one another during the crises under examination, were dissuaded from doing so by timely and forceful US intervention.” (pp. 7-8) Although we argue that nuclear deterrence theory was more influential in keeping India and Pakistan out of war, we add that “US intervention in the form of crisis management sometimes played a secondary, but important, role – particularly in 1990, 1999, and 2001-2.” (p. 11) Moreover, each of our empirical chapters explicitly examines the US role, and our concluding chapter reiterates the significant, but secondary, influence of US efforts to prevent war. (p. 188) We close the book with a lengthy analysis of how those efforts might be improved. (pp. 201-09)

We agree with Yusuf and Kirk that mono-causality is misguided in the analysis of India-Pakistan crisis behavior; but we differ in our ordering of the causes of peace, attributing the primary role to nuclear deterrence. Their claim that we “discount” the role of US intervention has a straw-man feel to it. Bernard Brodie once wrote of the analysis of nuclear weapons dynamics: “In these matters, to be sure, we are dealing fundamentally with conflicting intuitions. There is no doubt that some people’s intuitions are better than others, but the superiority of the former, though sometimes definable and explicable, may be difficult to prove.”[3] The least we can do, even in disagreement, is to get each other’s arguments right.

Our second issue concerns Yusuf and Kirk’s questionable use of the concept of a revisionist state in international relations. The authors analyse South Asian crisis outcomes in the context of Timothy Crawford’s pivotal deterrence theory.[4] According to the theory, part of one of the necessary conditions for pursuing a policy of pivotal deterrence is that: “The pivot must believe that both adversaries hold revisionist aims toward each other . . . .”[5] Yusuf and Kirk argue that this condition is met in the India-Pakistan case, explaining that “Pakistan’s is territorial revisionism over Kashmir, whereas India’s is a strategic revisionism that seeks to end Pakistan’s support of militant non-state actors as proxies against it.”[6]

We find this formulation to be problematic. For decades, the international relations (IR) theory literature has ascribed a particular meaning to the term “revisionist.” Simply stated, it refers to a state in the international system that seeks to alter the territorial status quo, or – more broadly – the existing order. (See, for example, the discussion in Jason W. Davidson, The Origins of Revisionist and Status-Quo States.[7]) By this longstanding, widely accepted standard, Pakistan has been a revisionist power practically since its inception, as it has sought, through a variety of means, to alter the territorial status quo in Kashmir. Indeed, even prominent Pakistanis, both civilian and military, have explicitly stated as much and have pursued policies, including the initiation of war on three occasions (1947-48, 1965, and 1999), to try and wrest all of Kashmir from Indian control.

By adding the adjective “strategic,” Yusuf and Kirk essentially redefine the long-accepted concept of the revisionist state, which has served IR theory well since its inception. Their use of the term “revisionism” to describe India’s attempts to ward off the attacks of “militant non-state actors as proxies” of Pakistan simply makes no sense. Any state, when faced with attacks on its soil, has the legitimate right of self-defense. In 1999, 2001-2002, and 2008, India has been in the position of defending the status quo against Pakistani, or Pakistan-sponsored, aggression. The policies pursued by India are best understood as part of a strategy of “deterrence by denial” — attempting to fend off its neighbor’s attacks by rendering their goals difficult to accomplish. This strategy cannot under any circumstances, let alone through a verbal sleight of hand buried in a footnote, be considered “revisionist.”

Sumit Ganguly is a Professor of Political Science at Indiana University and the currently holds that university’s Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations. Devin Hagerty is a Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


Reply by Jason A. Kirk and Moeed Yusuf

Sumit Ganguly and Devin Hagerty object to our characterization of their important 2005 book. In positioning it “most prominently” in a brief discussion of “nuclear optimist” perspectives, we summarize briskly—perhaps too briskly.

In saying that Ganguly and Hagerty “discount third-party involvement,” our intention was to say that they assign a (significantly) lower value to this explanation for escalation avoidance than to bilateral nuclear deterrence, not to say that they do not consider it or that they dismiss it. Regrettably, our use of the ambiguous and imprecise verb “discount” did not adequately capture their perspective, but this was not a bad-faith attempt to present them as “straw-man” foils.

We were aware of their proposition (hypothesis) that India and Pakistan “were dissuaded… by timely and forceful US intervention.”[8] Their findings are somewhat more complicated. They say “Washington was most influential during the Kargil war of 1999, when the Clinton administration resolutely eased Pakistani leaders into ceasing their ill-fated incursion into Indian Kashmir.”[9] In analyzing India’s reasons for not “widening and deepening the scope of the conflict,” they say that the proposition, “namely American intercession, can easily be dismissed.”[10] Regarding 2001-02, they say: “while American diplomacy may have played an ameliorative role in this crisis, it was hardly decisive in shaping its final outcome.”[11] Their conclusion is that bilateral nuclear deterrence best explains war avoidance.[12] The secondary US role was “that of a facilitator of peace, providing both sides with the political cover they needed to stand down while still saving face.”[13]

We do not single out Ganguly and Hagerty for leaving under-theorized US efforts to prevent war in nuclear South Asia. That is our appraisal of the literature overall, which we offer in a separate paragraph from our reference to their work. We note here their book’s path-breaking initiative to apply nascent unipolarity theory, which they call “the least-developed body of theory we use.”[14] In our article, we similarly cite Monteiro’s more recent assessment that “the value of unipolarity for the preponderant power is an important and under-theorized topic.”[15] We try to address an aspect of this theoretical underdevelopment.

Ganguly and Hagerty also object to our use of “revisionist aims” to characterize India’s crisis objectives. This language comes from Crawford’s general theory, but we qualify this precondition. We use a footnote—an integral textual element, not “buried” ground—to retain formality and brevity in the theory’s preconditions. India’s strategy is detailed in our case studies.

We would not presume to redefine revisionism. We understand it to mean an intention to alter the status quo, which may mean territorial control but may also mean “the existing order” more broadly. Support for the status quo is multidimensional,[16] as states may seek to uphold some aspects while opposing others. That the status quo also includes notions of morality, legitimacy and more has been in the conceptual toolkit of IR theory since E.H. Carr undertook the “the beginnings of a science,” over three-quarters of a century ago.[17]

In Crawford’s original theory, the relevant condition is that the third party “must believe that the adversaries are ‘reciprocal revisionists’—that each seeks gains at the other’s expense and will use force to achieve them if conditions permit.”[18] There is no stipulation that the status quo is defined by or limited to territorial control. In his analysis of US efforts at pivotal deterrence in early-1960s South Asia, he does note Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s 1963 statement that Indo-Pakistani “[c]onfederation remains our ultimate end.”[19] But by the 1990 Kashmir crisis, the US perception of India’s possible war aims reflected Pakistan’s “barely disguised role in stoking the Kashmir uprising” in India.[20]

We say “Pakistan’s is territorial revisionism over Kashmir,” and would add here that its Kashmir obsession is so central to its regional policy (and self-understanding) as to make it a revisionist state—Ganguly and Hagerty’s term. India is territorially a status quo power regarding Kashmir, but that does not mean it cannot have revisionist aims amid ongoing violence and recurrent crises. India seeks, as we say, to “end Pakistan’s support of militant non-state actors as proxies against it.” India cannot accept an “existing order” in which Pakistan repeatedly provokes it, despite what should, from India’s perspective, be a clear international consensus that India is the aggrieved party and Pakistan the aggressor. Ganguly and Hagerty may read “revisionist aims” as pejorative—which was not our intention—for they uphold India’s right to defend itself, and appropriately so.

Ganguly and Hagerty say that “the policies pursued by India are best understood as a strategy of ‘deterrence by denial,’” but in their book they also characterize the 2001-02 crisis as entailing a “coercive diplomacy” strategy by India—albeit a largely unsuccessful one. This strategy, they say, “seeks to induce an adversary to desist from ongoing hostile actions by threatening to resort to force…”[21]

Ultimately, the substantive question is: Does the US believe that India is willing to go to war against Pakistan to counter militancy across the Line of Control and terrorist attacks on Indian soil? We believe that this condition is met, and we apply pivotal deterrence theory to nuclear South Asia accordingly.

Jason Kirk is associate professor of political science at Elon University in North Carolina. Moeed Yusuf, director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., is writing a book on U.S. crisis management in India-Pakistan nuclear crises. They are the authors of “Keeping an Eye on South Asia Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India-Pakistan Crises”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.



[1]  Moeed Yusuf & Jason A. Kirk (2016): “Keeping an Eye on South Asian Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India–Pakistan Crises,” Contemporary Security Policy, DOI: 10.1080/13523260.2016.1177954.

[2] Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry:  India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons (Seattle, WA:  University of Washington Press, 2005).

[3] Bernard Brodie, “The Development of Nuclear Strategy,” International Security, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Spring 1978), p. 83.

[4] Timothy W. Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence: Third-Party Statecraft and the Pursuit of Peace (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 2003).

[5] Yusuf and Kirk, “Keeping an Eye on South Asian Skies,” p. 6.

[6] Yusuf and Kirk, “Keeping an Eye on South Asian Skies,” p. 23, note 30.

[7] Jason W. Davidson, The Origins of Revisionist and Status-Quo States (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

[8] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 7.

[9] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 11.

[10] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 160-1.

[11] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 182.

[12] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 188.

[13] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 192.

[14] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 7.

[15] Nuno P. Monteiro, Theory of Unipolar Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014) (note 18), p. 73.

[16] See Glenn Palmer and T. Clifton Morgan, A Theory of Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), especially Chapter 2.

[17] Edward Hallett Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1939).

[18] Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence, p. 26.

[19] Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence, p. 250, note 21.

[20] Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence, p. 171.

[21] Ganguly and Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry, p. 169.

Conventional arms control is impotent as an instrument of peace

CSP_Blog_16_07_Fatton_PhotoArms control regimes fail when they are needed most. When international tensions run high, governments tend to listen to military advice. This undermines the prospect and stability of arms control.

In March 2015, amid tensions with the West over Ukraine, Russia pulled out of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), an agreement aiming at preventing conflict in central Europe with NATO members. Moscow’s decision is another example of a country disengaging from conventional arms control when relations with other member states deteriorate. This raises an important question: can conventional arms control survive periods of tension and preserve peace?

The answer is no. When international tensions are high, conventional arms control regimes cannot be established and break down if already set up. Their prospect and stability depend on an atmosphere of détente between countries. Therefore, these regimes fail when most needed and are impotent as instruments of peace.

To understand this impotence, we need to study the role of military institutions. In hostile environments, governments tend to rely more heavily on the military for advice. The complexity of military affairs makes this unavoidable, so military influence on foreign policy increases. Government leaders consequently absorb the biases inherent to the military, which include worst-case analyses and an exclusive focus on military assets to guarantee national security. These biases are incompatible with the exercise of arms control.

To illustrate how domestic politics affects arms control, it is useful to study Japan’s participation in the naval arms control framework (the Washington System) during the interbellum and Russia’s relationship with the CFE after the Cold War. Both regimes, established respectively in 1922 and 1990, were set up amid improving relations between member states and decreasing military influence within Japan and the Soviet Union. The 1919-1920 Paris Peace Conference was instrumental in the rapprochement between Tokyo and Washington. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 and the 1990 agreement on the reunification of Germany solved two disputes that had kept the Soviet Union and the West apart for decades.

On the other hand, the Washington System and the CFE broke down when government perception of the international environment deteriorated. The international tensions that emerged around the early 1930s Manchurian crisis and the 2004 NATO enlargement, and later the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, heightened military influence in the two countries. Japan withdrew from the arms control regime in 1936 and Russia in 2015 (Table 1).

Table 1. Findings of case studies on the Washington System and the CFE.

This does not mean that conventional arms control regimes, once established, cannot have positive effects. Arms control may help reduce further the level of insecurity among member states by improving perceptions of others’ intentions and the predictability of behaviour. This in turn weakens the influence of the military inside countries. When arms control mitigates the perceived insecurity, armed forces lose importance in the eyes of government leaders.

While the Japanese and Russian cases both illustrate the impotence of arms control in times of tension, there are also some differences. The decline of military influence following the establishment of the conventional arms control regime was deeper in Japan. This allowed Tokyo to disregard the position of the navy on arms control during the Geneva and London conferences of 1927 and 1930. Inversely, the Russian military successfully pushed for the partial revision of the CFE in 1999. This is because the perception the leadership had of the international environment was more debated in Russia. Contrary to the Japanese government during the 1920s, the Kremlin’s assertion that the West held benign intentions was strongly contested by some domestic actors during the 1990s. The military was not politically isolated and consequently maintained a certain influence.

This highlights, once more, the centrality of domestic politics in arms control dynamics. The perception of the international environment may be a major political issue, manipulated by domestic actors seeking to advance their interests. These actors’ opposition to government perception helps the military maintain influence on foreign policy.

Finally, it is necessary to say something about nuclear arms control regimes. While they seem more resistant to international tensions than conventional arrangements, decision-makers should nonetheless keep the above in mind regarding nuclear agreements, especially the 2015 Iran deal. The military possesses high influence in Iran and some prominent domestic actors continue to claim that the West holds hostile intentions. Therefore, it should not be assumed that this regime is shielded from military assaults. Western countries, the United States in particular, must give heed to the image they portray to the Iranians. Otherwise, the military institution could be put in a position to threaten the stability of the agreement.

Lionel P. Fatton is Research Associate at CERI-Sciences Po and Doctoral Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. He is the author of “The impotence of conventional arms control: why do international regimes fail when they are most needed?”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

Armies should be self-aware when using historical lessons

CSP_Blog_16_08_Eric Sangar (Small)Military strategy is often informed by lessons from the past. Which lessons armies pick up and use, however, depends on organizational filters. Due to organizational layering, armies may collect contradictory lessons leading to incoherent policy.

The study of success and failure in past wars has been closely intertwined with the emergence of strategic thought. Prominent strategic thinkers, such as Machiavelli, Clausewitz, or Liddle Hart, have relied on history of past campaigns to analyze and improve warfare in the present. And during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been lengthy debates on which lessons from the past have been neglected, and which have been applied wrongly.

However, so far there have been no systematic attempts to theorize how armies learn from their historical experience. In my article “The Pitfalls of Learning from Historical Experience”, I propose a pioneering theoretical argument to explain why the British Army discussed historical lessons for the Afghanistan mission (ISAF) in a contradictory way.

Why contradictory? Using research papers written by staff officers as well as doctrinal pamphlets, I observe two strands of historical experience that dominated the internal debate on lessons for the Afghanistan mission: the Anglo-Afghan Wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the colonial counterinsurgency campaigns conducted after 1945, including Malaya. However, this debate is characterized by a significant difficulty: due to fundamental differences in their nature, the two strands of lessons cannot be integrated into operational strategy without losing coherence.

The lessons from the Anglo-Afghan Wars are about the assumption that the Afghan society is so different that any military approach needs to be tailored to the local Afghan context. For instance, the Land Warfare Centre’s pamphlet presenting lessons from the Anglo-Afghan Wars states:

The Afghans are a proud and independent people who resent foreign interference and especially foreign militaries that they construe as occupation forces. They have always resisted external forces and attempts to change traditional ways; […] there is room for reintegration and possibly reconciliation but only when the use of force against insurgents has applied enough pressure on the insurgent/tribesman that his options are limited enough to make him want to move from one side to the other.

By contrast, the suggested lessons from the post-1945 campaigns assume that there is a set of universally applicable principles that, if implemented coherently, are a central condition of success. In the words of an officer,

not only are the principles contained in British COIN doctrine relevant to modern COIN operations they are also applicable to a wide range of conflict situations, from peacekeeping to general war.

This contradiction – between the adaptation to the perceived specificity of the Afghan context and the adherence to a universal set of principles – has also had implications for coherent operational decision-making. For the initial deployment of British forces to Helmand province in the Summer of 2006, the British Army had prepared an integrated civil-military plan influenced by many of the principles that were formalized in the aftermath of the Malaya campaign. However, operational commanders decided to deviate from this plan only few weeks after their arrival. This can be explained by a perception of a historically violent Afghan society, where the Taliban insurgency could only be stopped through the determinate use of force.

Why do these apparently rather incompatible sets of lessons coexist in British military thought and practice? It is important to understand the stages of internal evolution of military organizations, which determine what kind of lessons are selected and transmitted at specific points of time. I introduce the concept of ‘layered organizational culture’. This expression relates to the idea that existing sets of ideas and organizational routines will determine how a military organization processes new experiences.

As organizational culture changes, so will the ways in which experience is handled. However, earlier layers of organizational culture continue to interact with more recent ones. This can lead to the sub-optimal co-existence of inherently incompatible lessons. When contemporary military organizations study experience from different stages of their historical experience, it often results in recommendations that are perceived to be legitimate although they are taken from greatly diverging contexts of organizational needs and perceptions.

The history of the British Army’s efforts to learn from its colonial experience illustrates this argument well: during the Victorian era, although the bulk of the British Army was deployed in permanent garrisons all over the Empire, a systematic evaluation and transmission of lessons gleaned from colonial operations did not happen. Experience was compartmentalized within locally deployed regiments, and there were no attempts to build a universally applicable doctrine. Internal debates across the army dealt almost exclusively with strategy and tactics for interstate warfare on the European continent.

The perhaps only ‘universal’ lesson transmitted from colonial operations was that every context was unique, and that local commanders had to show initiative in order to tailor strategy to local requirements. As a result, the defeat during the First Anglo-Afghan War was attributed to the specificity of the local context, that is the xenophobic and warlike nature of Afghan society, and adaptation to this ‘alien’ context was the main lesson transmitted within organizational memory.

Organizational culture regarding the use of colonial experience changed after 1945. This was a result of changes in the Army’s force posture. The strategic reserve forces that were rapidly shipped from one colonial uprising to the next did not have the time to develop that sense of local awareness that was perceived to be necessary for success. Instead, from the Malaya campaign onwards, doctrinal thinkers started to look for principles that could be easily taught and applied across diverging contexts. But this new layer of organizational culture interacted with the one rooted in the Victorian Army. As a result, ground commanders continued to enjoy a tremendous amount of autonomy with regards to the interpretation and implementation of the ‘classical’ principles of British counterinsurgency doctrine.

What lessons can be gleaned from the use of lessons by the British Army in the context of the ISAF mission? It would be neither realistic nor helpful to abandon the study of historical experience altogether. But doctrinal thinkers should be more aware that experiences transmitted from the past are ‘filtered’ through the lens of specific configurations of organizational culture that were dominant at the time when an experience was made. This would require working more closely with military historians and sociologists, who can help to answer why specific observations and recommendations have been recorded from past campaigns. History may indeed become a toolbox – but one that can stimulate increased organizational self-awareness and help to avoid the pitfalls of learning from the past.

Eric Sangar is a FNRS Research Fellow at the Tocqueville Chair in Security Policy of the University of Namur, Belgium. He is the author of “The Pitfalls of Learning from Historical Experience: The British Army’s Debate on Useful Lessons for the War in Afghanistan”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here. He is currently analyzing the influence of collective memory on uses of history in the realms of media discourses on armed conflict, foreign-policy making, and military strategy.

The 2016 Bernard Brodie Prize

Bernard Brodie lecturing, by Walter Sanders for Life Magazine, September 1946
Bernard Brodie lecturing, by Walter Sanders for Life Magazine, September 1946

Contemporary Security Policy awards the Bernard Brodie Prize annually to the author(s) of an outstanding article published in the journal the previous year. The award is named after Dr. Bernard Brodie (1918-1978), author of The Absolute Weapon (1946), Strategy in the Missile Age (1958) and War and Strategy (1973). Brodie’s ideas remain at the center of security debates to this day. One of the first analysts to cross between official and academic environments, he pioneered the very model of civilian influence that Contemporary Security Policy represents. Contemporary Security Policy is honoured to acknowledge the permission of Brodie’s son, Dr. Bruce R. Brodie, to use his father’s name.

The winner of the 2016 Bernard Brodie Prize is:

  • John Mitton, ‘Selling Schelling Short: Reputations and American Coercive Diplomacy after Syria’, December 2015. Access here.

This article was selected by a jury consisting of six members of the Editorial Board: Uday Bhaskar, Sarah Kreps, Jeffrey Lantis, Maria Mälksoo, Derek McDougall and Edward Rhodes. The jury selected the winner from a shortlist put together by the outgoing editors Aaron Karp and Regina Karp and the new editor Hylke Dijkstra. This shortlist also included:

  • Seth Baum, ‘Winter-safe Deterrence: The Risk of Nuclear Winter and Its Challenge to Deterrence’, April 2015. Access here;
  • Richard Bitzinger, ‘Defense Industries in Asia and the Technonationalist Impulse’, December 2015. Access here;
  • Niklas Nováky, ‘Why so Soft? The European Union in Ukraine’, August 2015. Access here;
  • Patricia Shamai, ‘Name and Shame: Unravelling the Stigmatization of Weapons of Mass Destruction’, April 2015. Access here.

More on the Bernard Brodie Prize is available here.

Preventing Nuclear Disaster in South Asia: The role of the United States

CSP_Blog_16_03_YusufKirkThe current trends in the South Asian nuclear rivalry are likely to make the U.S. crisis management role more challenging in any future crisis iterations, with no guarantee of success, but it is crucial that the U.S. remain engaged and try to prevent escalation.

When terrorists from Pakistan killed seven soldiers at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January, the world held its breath, hoping that the incident would not trigger yet another India-Pakistan crisis. The fear wasn’t far-fetched. Since India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, these bitter South Asian rivals have experienced one limited war and at least two major near-war crises. Fortunately, none of these crises escalated, in large part because of proactive U.S. crisis diplomacy that helped calm tensions.

There is no other scenario that gives greater urgency to conflict prevention than the possibility of nuclear war. Unsettlingly, U.S. policymakers remain quite uncertain about how future India-Pakistan crises may play out, and what America’s role in them might be. Standard theories of crisis diplomacy do not provide much insight. This isn’t surprising, since third-party involvement in nuclearized crises between non-superpowers is a post-Cold War phenomenon—seen only in the India-Pakistan rivalry so far—and crisis dynamics in such a scenario remain rather vaguely understood. Though recent literature on nuclear South Asia acknowledges the U.S. role in crisis management, most analyses focus on Indian and Pakistani strategies and behaviors, reflecting bilateral deterrence models derived from the Cold War superpowers.

A few analysts—including Bhumitra Chakma—have detailed America’s diplomatic interventions in recent India-Pakistan crises to claim that it prevented escalation (Chakma calls it “deterrence diplomacy”). Yet while the three-way crisis dynamic has been observed, it has not been systematically analyzed according to available theoretical frameworks. We need to understand not just what the U.S. did in these crises, but why and how a trilateral dynamic might be at work, and what this implies for future crises.

Timothy Crawford’s pivotal deterrence theory—hitherto applied only to conventional, non-nuclearized contexts—offers a framework for analyzing efforts by third parties to avert war between rivals. The theory explains how a powerful third party (or “pivot”) can prevent war by making the rivals uncertain about how it would respond to a war between them. Moreover, the theory explains, non-superpower rivals will naturally seek to avoid alienating the more powerful pivot state and thus isolating themselves in a crisis, and this enables the pivot to employ diplomatic tools that deescalate the crisis and prevent war.

The U.S. has involved itself as a crisis manager in nuclear South Asia without hesitation. While the modalities of its pivotal deterrence have shifted within and across the crises—generally coming down harder on Pakistan, but also serving clear notice to India that military action risked international isolation and possibly uncontrollable escalation—its interventions have consistently sought to deescalate crises as swiftly as possible.

CSP_Blog_16_03-Flags_of_India_and_PakistanIn the 1999 limited war at Kargil, where a mix of Pakistani regular forces and jihadi proxies had captured parts of disputed Kashmir under Indian control, the U.S. directly threatened Pakistan with isolation unless it withdrew unilaterally. In the 10-month military standoff in 2001-02, and during the crisis that followed the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, the U.S. forced Pakistan to acknowledge the flow of terrorists from its soil into India and to take action against some of these actors. It used Pakistani acquiesce, momentary as it was, to placate India. In 2001-02, it also reproved a recalcitrant India that refused to demobilize its forces by issuing travel advisories that advised U.S. citizens to avoid India, risking investor panic.

In all of these crises, neither India nor Pakistan was apt to escalate to general war without assured U.S. support (or, at least, acquiescence). Both sides sought to avoid isolation, and modified their statements and behaviors when confronted with the prospect—in ways that cannot be attributed to bilateral nuclear deterrence alone.

Even if bilateral nuclear deterrence exerts an underlying influence on Indian and Pakistani crisis behaviors—as it surely must—then trilateral pivotal deterrence should be understood as shaping their specific behaviors in these crises, and ultimately delivering the crisis outcomes: war limitation in 1999 and war avoidance in 2001-02 and 2008. The reasons why must be better understood by policymakers seeking to answer the million-dollar question: should, and can, the U.S. continue to play the pivot in future India-Pakistan crises?

Admittedly, repeated U.S. involvement could create a moral hazard problem that incentivizes India and Pakistan to turn incidents into crises—with the express goal of eliciting favorable diplomatic intervention. On balance, though, we believe that American disengagement would be a worse response to future crises, given the stakes involved and the uncertainty of how India and Pakistan would act in the absence of Washington’s now-anticipated pivotal deterrence. But the future success of a pivotal deterrence policy won’t be automatic. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains difficult, and Pakistan may no longer see the U.S. as an even-handed broker. For its part, India too is dissatisfied with the U.S. inability to compel Pakistan to put a permanent end to anti-India terrorism, despite promises, and has signaled an ability to take swift, limited military action to punish Pakistan before the U.S. can step into a future crisis.

Given these and other worrisome developments since the last major crisis in 2008, the future of America’s pivotal deterrence in nuclear South Asia may depend less on “isolation avoidance” and more on the other peace-causing mechanism that Crawford proposed, “the uncertainty effect.” That is, the U.S. should find ways, through pivotal deterrence, to reinforce bilateral deterrence: even more assertively leading India and Pakistan to fear escalation’s consequences, and not only the diplomatic fallout.

Moeed Yusuf, director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., is writing a book on U.S. crisis management in India-Pakistan nuclear crises. Jason Kirk is associate professor of political science at Elon University in North Carolina. They are the authors of “Keeping an Eye on South Asia Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India-Pakistan Crises”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

Something Must Be Done, But What? On Humanitarian Interventions

CSP_Blog_16_04_AbeWhen confronted by shocking images of gross human rights violations, massacres and massive flows of refugees, many people may shout: ‘something must be done!’ Unfortunately, such tragic images are, on a daily basis, coming out of Syria and northern Iraq where the Islamic State reigns, and many other places all over the world. Moreover, thanks to the development of inexpensive communicative devices, such tragic images are spread worldwide at a historically unprecedented speed.

However, cries for ‘something must be done’ will soon be followed by the question: ‘but what?’. One key consideration is the legitimisation of intervention by the international community. Foreign intervention breaches of the principles of sovereign integrity and non-use of force, both of which are stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations. Whilst action can be legitimised by UN Security Council authorisation, often agreement in New York is difficult to achieve.

By questions of legitimacy do not end with UN authorisation. Foreign military intervention may bring about casualties among local civilians and soldiers of intervening states, even it was mandated to bring a conflict to a close. So we may experience a situation in which proponents of intervention use lethal force and, at the same time, voices calling for troops to be withdrawn from battle will become louder.

This question has been repeatedly posed since the end of the Cold War. One of the first instances was the war in Bosnia (broadly speaking, the former Yugoslavia). In this case, international action was strongly urged as it was stated: “Shame in Our Time, in Bosnia” (The New York Times, 21 May 1992). As the intervention continued, nevertheless, other voices were increasingly raised, warning about the dangers of becoming deeply involved. After all, Western governments were subjected to public criticism for failing to stop the war and, at the same time, for dragging their public into a foreign war.

Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind described this difficulty by stating that:

‘something must be done’ may not be sustained if involvement in a bitter conflict in a country in which no vital national interests are at stake results in casualties. The clamour for action can turn, almost overnight, into an equally vigorous clamour to ‘bring our boys home’.

Why do such ‘dilemmas’ appear, even when action is required genuinely for humanitarian reasons? Supposedly, this is because we are living in a world where information and normative concerns are globalised, but the political system remains unchanged. The traditional international system has been established with the rule of non-intervention and the principle of non-use of armed forces to make inter-state relations more stable. Meanwhile, information recognises no territorial borders and in domestic politics its unrestricted flow has created an agenda too inhumane to ignore. This gap between a geographically-constrained world and a globally spreading world generates dilemmas for state decision makers.

In my article I analyse this dilemma in the case of Bosnian intervention and I discuss the consequences it had for NATO. These questions remain, however, critically important today. The intervention of the international community in Libya in 2011, for example, was very much inspired by the idea that ‘something must be done’ to protect civilians against the Gaddafi regime. On the other hand, the international community has been reluctant to further provide support to Libya after the NATO missions were done.

Yuki Abe is an Associate Professor at Kumamoto University, Japan. He is the author of “Norm dilemmas and international organizational development: humanitarian intervention in the crisis of Bosnia and the reorganization of North Atlantic Treaty Organization”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.62-88. It is available here.

The precarious China-Russia partnership erodes security in East Asia

CSP_Blog_16_06_BaevThe real progress in building partnership is far weaker than Moscow and Beijing try to demonstrate, but this is worrisome news for their East Asian neighbors.

With the explosion of the Ukraine crisis in spring 2014, Russia made a determined effort to upgrade its strategic partnership with China and achieved instant success. Large-scale economic contracts were signed in a matter of a few months, and the military parades in Moscow and Beijing in respectively May and September 2015, in which the two leaders stood shoulder to shoulder, were supposed to show the readiness of two world powers to combine their military might. In fact, however, the partnership has encountered serious setbacks and as of spring 2016, is significantly off-track.

It is the economic content of bi-lateral cooperation that has registered the most obvious decline. The volume of trade, which the officials promised to double in just a few years, actually contracted in 2015 by about a third comparing with 2014. The economic crisis in Russia and the sharp decline in purchasing power were the main reasons for this setback, and there are no reasons to expect an improvement in 2016 or in the years to come. The dramatic drop of oil prices in 2015 has not only devalued the much-trumpeted “400 billion dollars” gas contract signed in May 2014. It has also destroyed the economic foundation of the partnership because the development of “green fields” in East Siberia and construction of pipelines to China has become entirely cost-inefficient.

President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping have tried to downplay this weakening of economic ties by emphasizing their perfect rapport. But in fact this “beautiful friendship” is also far from sincere. Putin understands perfectly well the desire to strengthen personal power but the struggle against corruption, which is Xi Jinping’s method of choice in asserting his control, is for him a perilous path. Xi Jinping approves Putin’s boldness in challenging the US “hegemony” but is highly suspicious about his inability to ensure a smooth transition of power, which in China is a firm rule of the political game. The cultural gap between the elites in two states remains vast, and this guarantees the profound lack of trust between the leadership.

Beijing has no reasons to worry about this derailed partnership, but Moscow – engaged in a dangerous and costly confrontation with the West – most certainly has plenty of worries. Attending the September parade in Beijing, Putin quite possibly understood the need to prove Russia’s value as a strategic partner to the mighty neighbor. The effectively executed intervention in Syria was one way to do it, and Xi Jinping was probably impressed with this boldness in projecting power. Yet in the six months since September that impression has gradually paled as the limits of Russian reach have become clear and the risks have accumulated. Fundamentally, China is not interested in Russia’s attempts at manipulating conflicts in the Middle East. After all, its core interests are in ensuring the stable flow of oil, which is not necessarily what Moscow wants to see.

Russia cannot interfere with China’s expansion in Central Asia in the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, and has very little to offer in terms of networks or influence in Africa or Latin America. The only region where it can do something that would be useful for China is, by default, the East Asia. Moscow may feel compelled to abandon its position of benevolent neutrality in various maritime disputes there and provide unambiguous support for China’s stance, which could make a difference in Beijing’s eyes.

Russia may be reluctant to execute such a political maneuver in the South China Sea as it would ruin its relations with Vietnam – an old ally and one of the few states that remain positively inclined toward Russia. It would have fewer if any reservations in coming to China’s side in the East China Sea disputes, where Japan is the key party. Russia has its own territorial issues with Japan and the recently demonstrated readiness to escalate tensions by staging high-level official visits to the South Kuril Islands may be an indication of the possibility to support China in the next round of quarrels about the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.

China’s is certainly far more cautious than Russia in projecting military power for political purposes, but it monitors Russian experiments with great interest. The price for these experiments might appear prohibitively high as economic sanctions add to the decline of industrial production and set Russia on the rack of de-modernization. What makes this balance sheet less convincing is the fact that Russian economy had entered into the phase of protracted stagnation before the introduction of sanctions and the fall of oil prices. The political turn to the extensive use of military instruments was therefore aimed at launching a “patriotic” mobilization that would negate the impact of economic downturn.

Had China’s economy continued on the trajectory of strong growth, no need in such risky experiments would have emerged for its leadership. The phenomenon of China’s uninterrupted growth might, however, arrive to an end, and the spasms in its stock market might be a symptom of deeper troubles. In the unfamiliar and disturbing situation of an economic crisis, Beijing may very well take a leaf out of Putin’s book on wielding military instruments for boosting domestic support. Moscow then will be only too happy to provide support for its mighty neighbor and thus escape from the position of the main challenger of the international order.

Until recently, East Asian states, and first of all Japan, worried about the possibility of an alliance between Russia and China as the two rising powers. Now they have more reasons to worry about the maverick behavior of declining Russia and wavering China. Both have failed to build a solid economic foundation for their partnership but may find it opportune to back one another in using military power as an effective instrument of revisionist policy.

Pavel K. Baev is is a Research Director and Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway. He is the author of “Russia’s pivot to China goes astray: the impact on the Asia-Pacific security architecture”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.89-110. It is available via Open Access here.

On Style: Adopting the APA System

CSP CoverYou may have noticed that Contemporary Security Policy is undergoing a number of changes. Some of these have to do with the new editorship. Others are unrelated.

Starting with the April 2016 issue, we changed the layout of our articles. This is part of a wider drive by the publisher (Routledge / Taylor and Francis) to make journal articles fit for on-screen reading and more interactive (read more here). You will find similar article layouts in other journals by the publisher.

We have also redesigned the jacket of the journal. The colour scheme has remained the same, but the new design is more appropriate for the Internet age. Elements from the new cover design are also used on this editor’s website and the Twitter account of the journal. As such there is uniformity in terms of design. The August 2016 issue will be the first issue with the new cover.

We are also changing the style of the journal and the formatting of the references. In short, we are moving from an endnote Chicago type system to in-text citation (APA). There are a number of reasons for this. First, we have experienced problems in the past with the indexing of endnotes (for example by Google Scholar). In this electronic day and age, it is important that scholarly resources are electronically linked to one another. Second, because many readers now read the articles on-screen, and since it is a hassle to scroll back-and-forward to the endnotes, it seems better that readers immediately see the source through in-text referencing. Finally, while part of the discipline of international relations and international security has a strong background in history (which traditionally prefers notes), the current reality is that most CSP articles are from the social sciences. Indeed, few recent CSP articles actually use archival sources.

We will therefore switch to APA. Most, if not all, authors are familiar with this style. It is a consistent style and it is available for EndNote. In the interest of harmonisation, we will be following the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition) to the letter. This also implies that we will be switching from Oxford English to American English (Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition).

The new stylesheet will be implemented only from volume 38 (2017). This implies, however, a degree of planning. To minimise work on the side of the authors (i.e. the need to change style), we recommend that all newly submitted papers after 15 April 2016 follow the new stylesheet. Authors with a revise-and-resubmit decision should follow the old stylesheet unless they have been informed otherwise. In case of doubt, please contact me.

You will find the new style guide and information on the formatting of the reference list on this Editor’s website. Information on the “old” style is also still listed on these pages (scroll down).

Hylke Dijkstra

Rising Bipolarity in the South China Sea

CSP_Blog_2016_05_Burgess_02Despite soft-balancing by the United States and its pivot to Asia, China is likely to continue its expansionist policies in the South China Sea.

The first four years of the US rebalance to Asia have witnessed increased US diplomatic, economic and military efforts, the strengthening of alliances and partnerships, and increased engagement with China. The rebalance and engagement with China have had episodically curbed Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea followed by new waves of Chinese expansion.

US diplomacy, including statements by President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, as well as support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Code of Conduct, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and a moratorium on construction have occasionally caused China to take “one step back” and make conciliatory gestures. But Beijing took “two steps forward” in 2013 and 2015 with accelerated outpost construction and militarization. This can be seen as a counter to the rebalance and as part of a strategy to change the status quo in the South China Sea.

Beijing has shown that it will surge, stop, and surge in its expanding construction activities. It will continue to issue warnings to military aircraft and ships from the United States and its partners from “intruding” into newly claimed territory.

The United States is currently counting on soft balancing. It employs multilateral diplomacy through ASEAN and a coalition with the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and others to eventually bring China to negotiate a binding Code of Conduct and resolve the growing dispute. Soft balancing, backed by security cooperation and US military power, appears to be the optimal strategy in the short to medium term, given the weakness of allied and partner security forces.

Increased security cooperation, with joint exercises with Southeast Asian nations and Japan, Australia and India as well as the equipping and training of Southeast Asian security forces, is demonstrating growing resolve in the face of assertive actions by China’s security forces. Continuing cruises by the US Navy and overflight by US naval and air force planes are providing military backing to soft balancing. It is a signals to China and reassures allies and partners, which are trying to defend their exclusive economic zones.

As the cornerstone of the rebalance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will increase US influence in the region and strengthen ties with Malaysia and Vietnam and eventually other states. Increased multilateral trade will enable these states to stand up to China and efforts at economic blackmail. The increasing free flow of goods and investment will encourage US companies to become more involved in the region and will increase US interests in the region. The invitation to China to join provides an incentive for cooperation on the South China Sea issue.

The trajectory of China’s behavior will determine if the soft balancing approach will be successful. Until recently, defensive realists have been correct in explaining China’s behavior and gauging its intentions. China had been driven both by the need to defend growing national security and economic interests, evidenced by the leadership’s statements on the South China Sea and incremental expansionist policy.

If China remains motivated mainly by defense of its interests, the reputational costs being imposed against expansion will eventually cause a recalculation of Beijing’s strategy. Soft-balancing by the United States and its partners would stand a good chance of working. A ruling in favor of the Philippines in the UNCLOS case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the International Court of Justice would add ammunition to the soft balancing strategy.

In recent years, however, the offensive realist perspective on China’s behavior and intentions has gained currency. If China is indeed assertively trying to change the status quo in the South China Sea, it will be more difficult for soft balancing to influence Beijing’s behavior. However, it is too early to definitively conclude that China has gone over to the offensive. President Xi Jin Ping may be using expansion in the South China Sea as a way of demonstrating his power as a leader. Alternatively, the economic slowdown in China combined with the US rebalance may cause the leadership to rethink the strategy. Also, the New Silk Road strategy of infrastructure investment may cause Beijing to become more cooperative with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The constructivist perspective, which points to the leadership’s self-conceptualization as succeeding Imperial China in the Asian domain and as part of its strategic culture and appeals to Chinese nationalism, provides further insight into Beijing’s behavior and intentions. On the one hand, China’s strategic culture also includes confidence that patience will eventually bring rewards and that dominance will come sooner or later.

On the other hand, Xi appears to be offensively asserting China’s growing power and moving towards dominance before he is due to step down in 2023. He is also appealing to Chinese nationalism in forging ahead in the South China Sea. Nationalism is strong in China. It may lead to unintended escalation and other negative consequences in the South China Sea as well as the East China Sea against Japan.

In 2023, it is likely that Xi Jin Ping’s successor will continue the policy of expansion in the South China Sea. By that time, China may have been able to resolve its domestic problems and shifted to a consumer-driven economy. This could put it into a position where it is able to make international concessions. China also will strive to draw closer diplomatically, economically and militarily to ASEAN states. However, if China’s economy declines, the leadership could either focus inward and make concessions on the South China Sea or less likely stir up nationalist sentiments and initiate a diversionary conflict.

Stephen Burgess is a Professor at the Department of International Security Studies of the Air War College at the Maxwell Air Force Base in the United States. He is the author of “Rising Bipolarity in the South China Sea”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.111-143. It is available here.

Shortlist 2016 Bernard Brodie Prize

Bernard Brodie lecturing, by Walter Sanders for Life Magazine, September 1946
Bernard Brodie lecturing, by Walter Sanders for Life Magazine, September 1946

Contemporary Security Policy awards the Bernard Brodie Prize annually to the author of an outstanding article published in the journal the previous year.

The award is named for Dr. Bernard Brodie (1918-1978), author of The Absolute Weapon (1946), Strategy in the Missile Age (1958) and War and Strategy (1973), establishing ideas that remain at the centre of security debates to this day. One of the first analysts to cross between official and academic environments, he pioneered the model of civilian influence that CSP represents.

It is with great pleasure to announce the shortlist of the 2016 Bernard Brodie Prize:

  • Seth Baum (2015) ‘Winter-safe Deterrence: The Risk of Nuclear Winter and Its Challenge to Deterrence’, Contemporary Security Policy 36(1): 123-148.
  • Richard Bitzinger (2015) ‘Defense Industries in Asia and the Technonationalist Impulse’, Contemporary Security Policy 36(3): 453-472.
  • John Mitton (2015) ‘Selling Schelling Short: Reputations and American Coercive Diplomacy after Syria’, Contemporary Security Policy 36(3): 408-431.
  • Niklas Nováky (2015) ‘Why so Soft? The European Union in Ukraine’, Contemporary Security Policy 36(2): 244-266.
  • Patricia Shamai (2015) ‘Name and Shame: Unravelling the Stigmatization of Weapons of Mass Destruction’, Contemporary Security Policy 36(1): 104-122.

The shortlist has been put together by outgoing editors Aaron Karp and Regina Karp and the new editor Hylke Dijkstra. The Bernard Brodie Prize will be awarded by a jury from the CSP editorial board. All the articles on the shortlist for the 2016 Bernard Brodie Prize are freely available here.